Roll sheeting has come of age

ImagePackaging printers have been sheeting SBS board stock from
rolls on off-line, stand-alone units for half a century. Sheeting commercial
paper from rolls has been a viable process improvement for sheetfed printers
since the mid-1980s as the manufacturers designed smaller, more compact units.
And yet, acceptance by mainstream general commercial sheetfed printers has
never reached any appreciable degree of its potential.

New interest has been generated in the last few years, as
the long perfectors have become mainline tools for more general commercial
printers. As a matter of fact, the number of 8-12 unit sheetfed presses
installed without an in-line sheeter is becoming more the exception than the
rule.

In the old days “the difficulty of achieving accuracy of cut
and squareness” from an in-house sheeter was possibly a concern. There is
little doubt that if a printer was going to commit north of $5 million to buy a
long perfector, there’s not a shroud of doubt about the quality of the sheet
being delivered from the on-line or in-line sheeter.

Let’s look at the features of the on-line versus the
off-line sheeter as far as advantages and disadvantages.

The on-line will save the labor of an off-line operation
along with pallets and storage (regardless of how brief) of sheeted product
waiting to move to the assigned press. The on-line doesn’t need the stacker
that the off-line requires.

On the negative side, the on-line unit requires
sophisticated electronic integration, a dancer accumulator to adjust for
fluctuating press speeds, and can provide only grain long or short, but not
both.

It achieves this grain direction by delivering the stock
straight in, as grain long for the production of full size A4 signatures. When
stationed at a right angle to the press, it delivers short grain stock for the
smaller trim book signature.

The off-line unit can deliver both short and long grain
stock simply by shifting the position of the pallet receiving the sheeted
product.

The on-line unit delivers one sheet at basically press
speed. The off-line unit can cut 60” wide, which means it can slit 2-out of a
56”-wide roll to deliver dual stream 28” by 41” sheets to a pair of pallets
next to one another.

While the on-line is limited to the speed of the press or
13,000 sheets an hour (430 feet a minute), the off-line machine can run three
times that speed (up to 1,300 feet a minute) plus deliver 2-out.

While both on-line and off-line units will be an investment
in the $450,000 to $500,000 range, a single off-line sheeter running five
ten-hour shifts can provide stock to keep three sheetfed presses busy round the
clock six days a week. Or stated another way, a single shift on the off-line
sheeter can provide stock for up to 8 press shifts. Instead of feeding only one
press, every press in the stable can receive stock from the off-line sheeter.

The two factors driving the decision for sheetfed printers
to buy roll stock and sheet their own are (1) the cost of the roll stock versus
converter sheeted product and (2) the quicker turnaround times required to
deliver the finished product. The $30 to $60 per hundred weight (CWT) savings
is typically this roll versus sheet differential.

With more and more clients insisting on just-in-time (JIT)
schedules, printers are examining every process element to attain control and
reduce lead times. “Full service” has never before taken on such a broad
context for its definition. Depending on make orders at the mills and the
resulting cyclical demands at converters, lead times for sheeting can reach a
couple of weeks or even more.

The recessionary pressures of recent years tend to keep that
lead time down. The economic turnaround now underway will increase demand and
could lengthen that critical waiting period. This factor could make the
consideration of this equipment a very timely one.

It’s true that the specialty printers have tended to use
in-house sheeters. These include packaging (printing on board), label (printing
on coated one side) and envelope converters. The two things these firms have in
common are stock standardization and the need for a variety of sizes, which is
satisfied by the different roll length cutoffs. And yet, many of these firms
deliver 4-6-8 color products with quality as demanding as any commercial shops.

The economics of the investment certainly must be
considered. The areas of savings are the sheeting charge by the mill or the
converters, the extended time needed for this extra outside service, and the
extra warehouse space needed for sheeted skids rather than roll stock.

The sheeting process will incur spoilage. In the 1980s,
paperboard surveys indicated that 3.6% would be an average while 70% of the
respondents experienced 2% or less sheeting waste. In recent years, with the
improved electronic controls and enhanced technology incorporated in these
sheeters, users target 1% spoilage and some claim to come under that figure.
This improved spoilage performance is realized despite the product-shifting
trends of shorter runs, more frequent changeovers and multiple handling of
rolls.

The warehouse space savings is certainly not an incidental
advantage. The optimum operation would buy 50” diameter rolls to be sheeted.
They would stack 40” wide rolls five high or 60” tall skids four high in a
25-foot-high warehouse (22 foot clear under the sprinkler heads). Precut skids
are stored in racks possibly four high or two high if on top of one another.

With this scenario, calculations would show that roll stock
to be sheeted would save 50% of the floor space of precut skids. In reality,
the square footage savings is more like 20% to 25% because of aisle ways and
work in process storage requirements between the sheeter and the presses.

The Operations Vice President for York, Pennsylvania’s
Strine Printing, Dave Kornbau, said his firm has been sheeting rolls in house
for four years. They now have three different sheeters manufactured by three
different suppliers. These roll converters are running full out to provide
sheeted stock to their 12 sheetfed presses that are running around the clock
six days a week.

Their most recent press, a MAN Roland XXL, installed in
November 2005, requires an unusual 80” cutoff. This is provided by their
off-line Maxson MDH sheeter. “Currently, 95% of the stock printed has been
sheeted in house,” says Kornbau. He feels that printers should realize a 3-year
to 4-year payback as a conservative return on this investment if they have
sufficient paper volume.

Printers consuming 80 tons of paper a month can realize a
ROI on an in-house sheeter. This is the equivalent paper for production of two
full shifts on a 40” press that nets 10,000 impressions an hour at the industry
norm of 43% run time.

While used sheeters are readily available, the unusually low
prices carry a caveat. The analogy is similar to the cheap prices quoted for
used sheetfed presses manufactured prior to the mid-1990s.

That is, the latest electronics that lead the way for very
fast make-readies and many automation features are simply not available as
upgrades on older, roll-converting units.

In previous years, the sheeter manufacturers would primarily
be exhibiting at the Converting Machinery Manufacturers’ (CMM) trade show.
Because of the increasing interest by sheetfed printers, as well as their
partnerships with press manufacturers in showing on-line operations, these
suppliers will be at the Graph Expos and Print equipment shows.

A few of the well known sheeters are Bielomatik, Jagenberg,
Lambs Gray, Langston and Maxson. If the prospective printer can’t wait for the
Graph Expo 2006 October 15-18, she/he should call Brent Burdick, Maxson’s Vice
President of Sales and Marketing, at 401-596-0162 (maxsonautomatic.com) and Ron
Pueshel, USA President of Bielomatik-Jagenberg in Windsor, Connecticut at
860-640-0500 (biel-jag.com) for product literature.

C. Clint Bolte & Associates, Chambersburg, PA.T:
717-263-5768  F: 717-263-8945E:
cbolte3@comcast.net

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